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A Tour of Rochester’s Times Square Building

January 7th, 2013

A photo of a photo of a man atop the Times Square Building, Rochester, NY. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Ryan Green is a student at University of Rochester. Last month, after joining up with the University’s Urban Explorers (UrbEx external link) club, he toured Rochester’s Times Square Building, formerly the Genesee Valley Trust Company external link. You probably know it by the enormous set of wings on top of it. Aside from maybe the Mercury statue, those “wings of progress” are easily the most recognizable element of Rochester’s skyline. And while they have a story all their own, there’s plenty more history to be found on the fourteen floors beneath.

Although the building is not open for public tours, Richard Calabrese Jr., who manages the property, says he likes touring the urban explorer group because of their genuine curiosity. Although, if a fundraising tour is requested, Calabrese says he’d consider that. “I have all kinds of history that I’ve learned over the years.” Ryan Green had such a good time touring the building, he wanted to share these photos, and his experience, with us…

Times Square Building, Rochester, NY. [PHOTO: RochesterDowntown.com]First, a little bit of background. The architects of the Genesee Valley Trust bank building (now The Times Square Building) were New York City firm Voorhees, Gmelin and Walker external link, best remembered for designing the Barclary-Vesey Bank external link, which, in 1923, was the first significant Art Deco building in New York City. Ralph T. Walker is said to have conceived the idea for the “wings of progress” sculpture while walking on a beach in the 1920s. He found four seashells that suggested to him “a sense of flight… upward lift,” Ironically, the building’s cornerstone was laid on the same day as the infamous stock market crash of October 29, 1929 – the start of the Great Depression. Construction was completed in the summer of 1930. Genesee Valley Trust Company survived the Depression and remained in the building until 1955.

The lobby of the Times Square Building, Rochester, NY. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
This is the main lobby (above). The walls are sheathed in red Altico and Levanto marble. The ceiling is covered in hand painted paper decorated with geometric shapes, trompe-l’oeil external link faceting and a stylized wheat motif. Wheat was symbolic of prosperity, which, given the importance of wheat in Rochester’s history as the “Flour City”, everyone would be familiar with. This is also a unifiying theme of both exterior and interior decoration. Hanging from the center of this octagonal room is a light fixture of characteristic geometric Art Deco form, which radiates light through a circle of narrow plates of translucent glass.

This beautiful marble work had been covered up with drywall after several renovations over the years. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Those marble strips lining the walls were cut from the same piece of rock and formed to make the diamond patterns shown above. Over the years, much of this stone work had been hidden under layers of drywall and is now being rediscovered while Calabrese is in the process of renovating and updating the building.

A charcoal figure study of a native American, for the mural Calabrese also tells us of a 25-foot mural called Rochester Past, Present, and Future painted—somewhere inside the building—in 1930 by famed local American painter Carl W. Peters external link. Most people assume the mural was removed or destroyed, possibly due to renovations. But Calabrese believes it might still be in the building under some drywall. According to Lu Harper, Memorial Art Gallery Librarian, the only images of the artwork that are known to exist are a few low-quality illustrations. This image external link (shown left) is a preparatory charcoal sketch, by Peters, for the mural.

UPDATE: Jeff Freeland found a reproduction of the mural external link on the cover of this book external link.

There's now an Orange Glory Cafe on the first floor. This fireplace was discovered hiding under drywall. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Also in the lobby, this fireplace was discovered hiding under drywall. Notice there’s now an Orange Glory Cafe in there. And that piece of furniture they’re using as a counter looks to be a check writing table, in true Art Deco style, and original to the building.

An Art Deco check writing table, original to the building. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Here’s a closer look at the detail.

Basket-weave tile floors. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Sidebar: I’ve been looking to re-tile the bathroom in my house… don’t you know this is the exact same basket-weave pattern I picked out. A hundred years later it’s just as awesome looking.

the main vault of the Genesee Valley Trust Co. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Now we’re getting to the fun stuff. Here’s the door to the main vault of the Genesee Valley Trust Co. Bank…

The vault door locking mechanism. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
…and the locking mechanism.

This particular vault room was used as a speakeasy at one time, and Charlie Parker once played here! [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
According to Calabrese, this particular vault room was used as a speakeasy at one time, and Charlie Parker once played here!

An electric chandelier inside the speakeasy... err, vault I mean. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
An electric chandelier inside the speakeasy… err, vault I mean.

An escape route? Or a trap? [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
This hallway seems to lead nowhere. It was either used as a decoy escape route for potential bank robbers… or maybe a real escape route for the bootleggers?

Original safe deposit boxes [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
A mountain of original safe deposit boxes. This is somewhere within the maze of vault rooms.

A doorknob with the letters GVT-Genesee Valley Trust. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
A doorknob with the letters GVT-Genesee Valley Trust.

A second vault. This one is somewhere inside the first one. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
A second vault. This one is somewhere inside the first one.

Let's climb inside! Great idea! [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Let’s climb inside! Great idea!

Looks like Sam wuz here... 4/17/1934. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Looks like Sam wuz here… 4/17/1934.

The alarm system control panel. May have been capable of dispensing tear gas? [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Now THIS is interesting. This is the alarm system control panel. If you look closely you’ll see it was made by Duplex Electric Company. I’ve read that these alarm systems would sound a loud horn on the outside of the building. And some of them were even capable of discharging tear gas within the vault if a robbery was attempted. No word yet if this particular system used tear gas or not.

Ryan tells me the ride in this freight elevator was about as terrifying as it looks. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Alrighty then… from one scary-frightening chamber to another… lets jump inside the freight elevator and check out the basement. Ryan tells me the ride was about as terrifying as it looks. Down we go…

A retro Art Deco cigarette butt can [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Hey, look what we found down here… a retro Art Deco cigarette butt can that matches the furniture we saw in the lobby–also original to the building.

A Genesee Valley Trust Company sticker. GVT was the building's original occupant. They moved out in 1955. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Ooh fun… Here we find a Genesee Valley Trust Company sticker!

Vintage stickers and stamps adorn the walls. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
More WWII vintage stickers (and stamps)! One for “The New DeSoto” which I think was a car external link…and one looks like it’s from a United Jewish Appeal external link stamp book.

The boiler. Probably still works too. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
The boiler. Probably still works too.

Super Mario and his brother are in hiding down here somewhere. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Super Mario and his brother are in hiding down here somewhere. Let’s get out of this basement…

The building's office space is currently 85-90% occupied. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Ryan says the top floor was the only floor of office space that he saw. There were historic maps throughout the hallways. Apparently the building is 85-90% occupied – mostly with law firms and two private investigators.

The Cutler mail chute is still in use today. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
The Cutler mail chute is still in use today. Drop your letter in the slot and watch it as it plummets to the mail box on the ground floor. Several downtown buildings still use these chutes… In fact, it was one of my favorite things about working in the Sibley Building.

UPDATE: I was just reminded by a friend that the Cutler mail chute was actually invented here in Rochester in the late 1800′s. It was designed by architect James G. Cutler, originally for the Elwood Building at State & Main Streets (demolished in 1967). Cutler later became mayor of Rochester in 1904. Of course, the Cutler Union external link is named for him.

The roof is an active nest site for endangered Peregrine Falcons. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
NOW TO THE ROOF! But first, a word of caution…

This is an active nest site for the endangered Peregrine Falcon. Access beyond this point is prohibited under NYS Environmental law. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment. This site is monitored by video surveillance. Watch the falcons live at www.rfalconcam.com external link

Yeah ok, whatever. Let’s go…

Hmm... no endangered falcons up here today. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
Hmm… looks to be no endangered falcon birds up here today. But check out this view…

Check out the view. This is looking west. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
This is looking west over the old City Hall building (with gaping hole in its roof), and the Rochester Free Academy building, which is now being renovated external link. Broad Street is on the left. Main Street is in the center.

The most distinctive feature of this 260-foot tall building are those large cast aluminum wings, known as the 'wings of progress, symbolizing the age of aviation. The screen below is decorated with a wheat motif - symbolizing prosperity, it's a recurring theme in and around the building. [PHOTO: Ryan Green]
The most distinctive feature of this 260-foot tall building are those large cast aluminum wings, known as the “wings of progress”, symbolizing the age of aviation. The tower was originally intended to serve as a night beacon to aviators, and to symbolize modernity in the age of electricity. The wings themselves are 42 feet high, fourteen and one-half feet wide at center, and weigh at least 7,000 pounds EACH (maybe even as much as 12,000 lbs. but I’ve got conflicting reports). They are pinioned to their base through a perforated metal screen. The screen is decorated with a bent stalk of wheat motif, and was designed to be illuminated from within, while the wings were intended to be flood-lit from below.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: When George Eastman’s Kodak Tower external link was constructed in 1914, it had 16 stories and a flat roof and was Rochester’s tallest building. However, it lost this status when the “wings of progress” sculpture was added to the Genesee Valley Trust building. Not to be outdone, in 1930, Eastman ordered the addition of three stories to his tower – re-obtaining the status of Rochester’s tallest building.

Thanks to Ryan Green for submitting
this amazing photo series!

You can view Ryan’s entire Flickr set here external link

Ryan is from Albany and went to undergrad for Chemical engineering and Electrical engineering at SUNY Buffalo. While in Buffalo he caught the “industrial history/architecture/urban exploration bug” and he volunteered with the Buffalo Central Terminal external link restoration efforts. He’s now attending University of Rochester for a Masters in Materials Science. Ryan joined the University’s UrbEx external link club for leisure and stress relief. This past fall he’s gone on tours of the subway, to the top of Rush Rhees library, Times Square, and a few other interesting places.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 7th, 2013 at 8:05 am and is filed under Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Exploration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “A Tour of Rochester’s Times Square Building”

  1. That’s fascinating! I love seeing what’s in this old building that I’ve marveled at since childhood. Imagine, drywalling over marble? Unbelievable!
    I’d love to join the urban explorers!

  2. Phyllis Schirano says:

    Too bad no one has documented the spaces in the Sibley Bldg that are still intact. The wood work is incredible. I would love to see some original pictures of the interior of the Sibley Bldg back in its day.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Tear it down, I say, tear it down! Who needs old buildings, anyway? What we need in Rochester is more parking, more proprietary architecture, places constructed with planned obsolescence as the primary goal, and cars, cars, and more cars. Tear down the damn thing. Give more money to “developers,” especially absentee landlords, I say. Give them all the money from the City treasury, the County bank, and Regional Economic Development Council! Open your coffers, boys, and let them renovate the structures that they have received for $1 and/or sat on without concrete plans to move forward, as they have occupied our communities, our neighborhoods, our fair City of Rachacha. What the hell is wrong with this town?!

  4. I was just reminded by a friend, that the Cutler mail chute was actually invented here in Rochester in the late 1800′s. It was designed by architect James G. Cutler, originally for the Elwood Building at State & Main Streets (demolished in 1967). Cutler later became mayor of Rochester in 1904. Of course, the Cutler Union (which he also designed) is named for him.

  5. ELF says:

    The University of Rochester has the Cutler Mail Chute Company Papers.

  6. patsy6 says:

    What an interesting tour and great pictures as well. I would strongly urge anyone who is interested in Rochester’s peregrine falcons to check out http://www.rfalconcam.com, as is mentioned in the article. The falcons are around, although they are not currently in the nestbox, which is on the northeast side of the building. To see them in person, bring your binoculars downtown starting in April and stand on the sidewalk on the Broad Street Bridge. You’ll see Beauty, our resident female, and Dot.ca, our resident male, flying all around the nestbox. They also like to perch right beneath the building’s wings. What an awesome sight!

  7. Wing Goose says:

    WOW! That was great. Thanks to all.

  8. Donna says:

    What a great building. I’ve been there and have just stared at it for like all day. Of course, I was watching the falcon juvie, Orion up there. The wings are special. Oh and hey Rich, soon falcon babies again and you know what that means!!!

  9. Dan Howell says:

    Great shots – thanks for sharing! I wish there had been an Urban Explorers group when I was in college. Or now!

    Every time I pass Times Square at night (either on city street or on 490), I state that the wings should have flood lights and the center should be lit. It would be nice to see that happen at some point down the road. I think our skyline would look even better if it was lit proper at night!

  10. Rich Calabrese says:

    Wow, such nice comments! Thank you all. We’ve had fun renovating the building and uncovering a few great features that have been hidden and thankfully not completely demolished. A couple of things….
    The first Cutler mail chute was installed in the Wilder Building(Main and Exchange) from what a historian told me.
    The total height of the wings are over 70 feet.
    We’re looking at lighting the wings more effectively. Falcons… Soon they’ll be nesting! We will find body parts of birds they preyed on such as heads, torsos, wings, talons,etc. I look for them near the front doors every day.

  11. Rich Calabrese says:

    Oh, one more quick story. The foreman that oversaw the construction of the wings died in August, 2011. Phil Interliccia was his name, he was 98. I was lucky enough to show him the wings from the rooftop about five years ago. I called the TV stations and the D&C to meet us there. When we walked him out on the roof and he turned around, he looked up at the wings and stayed silent. Then he said (as he got emotional) “Wow. I never thought I’d see the day I’d get this close to these wings again.” Needless to say, everyone was choked up at that moment. It’s a story I’ll tell forever.

  12. Russ Shaner says:

    There is/was equipment to light the wings. I recall that it was restored and working perhaps 20 or so years ago. The looked spectacular all lit up at night. It would be nice to see it restored/updated (Color changind LEDs perhaps) again.
    I had a friend in the early 70s who worked for “Rochester Bronze Co,”. He said that they had built the wings. Are you sure they are cast aluminum or could they possibly be bronze?

  13. Rich Calabrese says:

    Hi Russ! Yes, the wings are aluminum, Phil Interlichia told me. He said it was the best produce out there because of its weight. There’sa steel support structure inside the wings. Rochester Bronza may have been the contractor, I’m not sure. We have the meeting minutes from the construction meetings, that should give us a ton of information.

  14. Christopher Brandt says:

    Just to clarify further on the comment pertaining to Cutler. Cutler Union, part of the University of Rochester’s Women’s Campus, and now the Memorial Art Gallery, was NOT designed by James G. Cutler. It was dedicated in his honor. This stemmed from the disagreement Cutler and others had when building the new U of R river campus in the early 1920s. Cutler desired for the new River Campus to be designed in the Collegiate Gothic style much like Yale and Princeton. However, the final decision of course was with the Neo-Classical style that dominates River Campus. Cutler Union built posthumously in 1926, was designed as a kind of homage to Cutler, with the nod toward his desires for River Campus in its Collegiate Gothic design (courtesy of Gordon and Kaelber).

  15. Russ Shaner says:

    Rich,
    Not to beat dead horses, but it sure would be nice if the lighting equipment could be resurrected and updated. When they were operating some years ago the sight of them at night was spectacular.
    Russ Shaner

  16. Jeff Freeland says:

    These are not entirely captioned yet but I wanted to get them posted in time for peoples tour tomorrow. Sorry I get an invitation to be joining you:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/organize/?start_tab=one_set72157632884429950

  17. Rich Calabrese says:

    Guys and gals, There’s no tour tomorrow. I wasn’t informed of one and I’d be the one giving the tour, I don’t want to have anyone freezing outside standing in the wind and cold. We’ll get one together, don’t worry.

  18. Jeff Freeland says:

    I did considerable research on Ralph Walker’s masterpiece Genesee Valley Trust/ Times Square building about ten years ago.

    As you can tell from the tall windows on the south side (Broad Street), the banking room was a two story high space with the Carl Peters mural centered in a niche on the west wall, opposite the front doors, and the focus for the nave-like room. You can also see from the windows along Broad Street that there were two mezzanine floors at the east and west ends of the banking room. Windows of the lower east mezzanine still look into the lobby.

    The mural was used as a cover illustration for a history of Rochester. It was the best reproduction I was able to find. A copy of the book was recently on eBay.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/1934-ART-DECO-ROCHESTER-NY-BUSINESS-COMMERCE-HISTORY-BOOK-CHAMBER-COMMERCE-/221154550378?_trksid=p2047675.l2557&ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&nma=true&si=sn%2B2wKKEusNoNaezKa6CDP1IchM%3D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc

    The mural could be found racist by some. An Native American sits alone and dejected, crouched down in the lower left, being pushed out of the picture by the happy, and productive, white settlers. From the 19th century foreground, a Rochester yet to be, as imagined in 1930, rises behind them. Unfortunately the cover photo is in black and white. A true shame as Peters was a brilliant colorist.

    The room’s colors were lighter shades of glass green (like the edges of thick glass the remaining lobby chandelier) and terra cotta (like the lobby ceiling and marble) accented with golden bronze, red marble, and aluminum leaf. The Peters mural, if like his other work, would have had relatively bright colors from across the spectrum and must have been striking. I’m guessing that like the other furniture originally in the room, there’s black walnut and ebony beneath the pale yellow paint of the check writing desk shown.

    There was also to be a bronze bas relief over the main door by the same scultor who did the stone carving above the Exchange Boulevard windows, Leo Friedlander. Titled “The Dawning of a New Era” it was to show the Native American people being “invited” to leave the Genesee Valley by pioneer white men. The plaster cast of this sculpture received considerable national attention and was held up as an excellent example of the “new” (Art Deco) style in architectural sculpture. Somewhat bizarrely, the Native Americans are dressed like Dakota Sioux, a fault obvious, at the time, to anyone in Rochester where Iroquois costume was well known. I can find no evidence that this bronze was ever cast or installed, just imagined architectural renderings showing it, and Friedlander’s plaster maquette.

    The banking room walls were paneled in Australian lacewood, a fancy grained wood with a pattern often described at resembling bees wings. I believe the wood shown around the vault in Ryan Green’s photos is the same.

    The banking room was divided horizontally sometime in the 1950′s or 60′s to give additional floor space. After the demolition of Claude Bragdon’s railroad station, the loss of this space is arguably Rochester’s greatest architectural tragedy

    The building was published in one national journal, and there were also numerous local newspaper articles and an opening day booklet which explained the architect’s intent. Unfortunately there are only very grainy or very small images of the space. But we can hope that perhaps in a forgotten album or slide carousel in an attic somewhere….

    The story of seashells as inspiration for the Wings of Progress continues to be repeated on the internet. It seems to be a bit of creative rationalization, traceable to a single late 20th century source. Architect Ralph Walker’s inspiration was not recorded in any literature from that time. Further research needs to be done.

    Three other points:
    1) Ryan’s “hallway leading to nowhere” is a security feature allowing a guard to check and see that no one was tunneling into the vault. Mirrors set at 45 degrees in the corners (visible in the photo– the tall black shape at the end of the hall) allowed the guard to see around the corners and thus all the way around the vault at a single glance. Somewhat like a, hallway sized, horizontal periscope.

    2) A monograph was published last year about Walker the architect largely responsible for design in the partnership of Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker. One of his chief aesthetic goals was to express the curtain wall of the skyscraper as folded planes, and as the basis for decoration. Almost origami-like geometric forms, and room and ceiling shapes, were the result. One Wall Street (for the Irving Trust Co.) and the Barclay-Vesey Building (for the New York Telephone Co.) are his pinnacle achievements and can still be seen, largely intact, in Downtown Manhattan. But, the Rochester Building exhibits many of his typical and best design features.

    http://www.amazon.com/Ralph-Walker-Architect-Kathryn-Holliday/dp/0847838889/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358052950&sr=8-1&keywords=ralph+walker+architect+of+the+century&tag=yjtv-20

    http://www.nyc-architecture.com/LM/LM051-BANKOFNEWYORK.htm

    3) Christopher Brandt is correct. Cutler Union is by Gordon and Kaelber, who were also responsible for the original River Campus buildings, and Rundell Library. Cutler *was* an architect, but made his fortune, as wags proclaimed, “by patenting gravity”.

  19. @Jeff, WOW, lots of great information. Thanks for digging up the reproduction of the Carl Peters mural. Wish I could see it in living color.

    To reiterate what Rich said about a tour… there was a call put out on Facebook a few weeks ago for anyone interested in going on a tour. An official date has not been set and only the first 20-30 people were contacted. If you were not contacted please do not show up expecting a tour. There was an overwhelming response and not nearly enough space for everyone. Keep following on Facebook for future tours and updates.

  20. Jerry Fretto says:

    I love those wings ! Thank you for the very interesting tour you just gave me and the public ! GOD bless you .

  21. Rich Calabrese says:

    Someone named Jason sent an email to 13WHAM–FOX news about their logo on the new TV show called Good Day Rochester and they copied me in on it. They mentioned the logo was missing key buildings such as Times Square, First Federal and Kodak Tower. I wonder if they’ll change the logo.

  22. @Rich, I have noticed that graphic designers give more attention to the buildings on the east side of the river, when clearly the more interesting “skyscrapers” are on the west side. I’m sure some people will debate me on that point. But as a designer myself, I’m guilty of this too. Maybe it’s because we subconsciously associate power, money and economic growth, with those more modern/shiny big box towers. But also, the modern buildings are way easier to draw as a simplified logo-form.

    Regardless, I agree with Jason’s point in general ;-)

  23. Rich Calabrese says:

    Interesting view, hmmm.
    Here’s a shortened version of the email to 13WHAM that I was CC’d in…

    Hello everyone,
    I’m writing to you with feedback about Good Day Rochester. First, let me tell you I’ve been a huge fan of 13WHAM and the morning and evening news shows.
    As for the feedback,it’s about the logo. There’s something missing from it. Rochester has such a great skyline and some incredible and unique skyline landmarks. When I look at the GDR logo, I get the feeling it’s an industrial city, not our city. Take a look at the flat roofed buildings on the left and right. They’re rather boring frankly.

    Buildings such as the Times Square building (the building with the interesting wings atop) would be a great addition to the logo. So would Kodak Tower, First Federal Plaza. and even the river could be woven in. It appears that Bausch and Lomb is in the logo, that’s a notable structure.

    So, that’s my two cents. Thanks for listening.
    Keep up the great work on the air!

    Jason Sumner


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